Golfer Perry Takes Lead at Hope Classic

Friday, January 23rd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) _ Some 20 years after his first PGA tournament, Kenny Perry has figured out the secret to his game, shooting a 6-under 66 Thursday to go to 14 under and take a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson, Kirk Triplett and Skip Kendall after two rounds of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

The 43-year-old Perry is coming off his best year. He won three times, finished in the top 10 in 11 tournaments, and ranked sixth on the money list with $4.4 million.

The secret?

``I just understand how to play. I understand my golf game. I'm not as rattled as I used to be, and I'm not as angry on the golf course as I used to be,'' he said.

``I used to always get frustrated trying to make things happen. I'm just letting it happen instead of trying to force it now. You just have to be patient and try not to make the big mistake.''

That mind-set helped him score low on a day when he couldn't hit the ball straight.

``It was probably the best round I've ever played for as poor as I hit the ball,'' he said. ``I kept hitting everything to the right. Thank goodness the mental side of my game was good.

``Normally I hit it pretty good and don't putt well. I only had 23 putts today. The putter saved me.''

He began the second round on the back nine at PGA West and was just even par for the day when he sank a tricky putt for birdie on the 18th.

``The key to my round was the 18th,'' Perry said. ``I mis-hit a pitching wedge into the front bunker, then blasted it 8 feet from the hole. But it had about 8 inches of break, a big curler off the hill.

``I said I was going to make the putt for birdie and shoot 5 under on the front nine.''

After the turn, he made a series of putts from 6-to-8 feet, had five birdies and no bogeys.

Perry is a former Hope champion, with the 1995 title among his seven career victories.

Mickelson, making his season debut after having a forgettable 2003, won the Hope in 2002. He shot a second-round 63 at Indian Wells, considered the easiest of the four courses used for the five-day tournament.

``I'm very pleased with the progress of the first two rounds of the year,'' said Mickelson, who hasn't won in 18 months. ``I feel like I've driven the ball very well, and I feel much more confident from 134 yards in, which last year was a point of dissatisfaction.''

He's gone back to his old form after tinkering last year took a toll on his short game.

``My poor performance led to poor confidence,'' Mickelson said.

Triplett had a 65 and Kendall a 68 to tie Mickelson at 13-under 131.

Players alternate daily among the four courses, with the first four days of the tournament a pro-am. The field is trimmed to the low-scoring 70 pros and ties for Sunday's finale, which will be at PGA West.